GFCI outlets provide additional protection against fire and electric shock.
Unlike standard outlets, GFCI outlets shut off power to a device if they detect an electrical problem.
To stay safe and comply with the National Electrical Code®, your outlets will need GFCI protection if they are within 6 feet of a sink or anywhere else they are likely to come into contact with water.
Check GFCI outlets monthly to make sure they are working properly.
Installing GFCI outlets is best left to the professionals unless you have strong electrical knowledge.
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Have you ever wondered why some of your outlets have reset buttons and others don't? It's all in the name of safety, and these special outlets with extra buttons are called GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets. What is a GFCI outlet, where is it needed, and why are they so important to the safety of your home? We'll guide you through everything you want to know about these unique components of your electrical system.
GFCI vs. standard outlets
A standard outlet cannot protect you from accidental shocks. If you plug something into the outlet and it malfunctions, there is no fuse that will disable the outlet. This means that the electricity could jump out and hit you, causing an electric shock or an electrical fire. GFCIs are so valuable because they have this fault.
On the simpler side of things, unlike standard outlets, some GFCI outlets have one or two indicator lights on the bottom corner of the outlet face.
The main light is the status indicator. It stays green if the outlet is working properly and turns red if it detects a problem. On some models, the light may turn off completely, indicating that the device has been turned off. If there is a second indicator button, it will usually flash orange when there is a trip so you knowthe electrical outlet is not working.
How does a GFCI outlet work?
Not all outlets offer the same protection against electric shock. A GFCI outlet is designed to prevent electric shock. TheNational Electrical Code® requires these outlets in specific locations in the home, especially those that may come in contact with water.
So, how can a GFCI outlet prevent a small electrical problem from becoming a big one? The outlet will cut power to the circuit to stop the current if it detects small changes, even as small as four to five milliamps. To put this in perspective, a milliamp is 1/1,000 of an ampere, which is the basic measure of electrical currents in a home.
When a GFCI interrupts power, it prevents a ground fault, which occurs when electricity flows outside the intended circuit and works its way to ground through any path necessary, including the human body.
If the GFCI outlet senses excessive energy or abnormal flow, it can shut off power in less than 1/30 of a second. You may still feel a shock, but this exit helps prevent serious injury and death.
Types of GFCIs
There are three main types of GFCI outlets:
Container:This is the most common type of GFCI outlet and looks like traditional outlets. It is either wired as a single-position outlet, protecting only one outlet, or as a multi-position GFCI, which will protect other outlets in the home that are on the same circuit.
Circuit Breaker:A GFCI circuit breaker protects an entire circuit, protecting both the electrical system (like a standardcircuit breaker box) and the people who use it. This is ideal for outdoor areas and garages with multiple GFCI outlets.
Temporary:Never use a temporary GFCI for permanent home use. Professionals often use this type for construction work.
Where should you install GFCI outlets?
Photo: The Toidi / Adobe Stock
The National Electrical Code® requires GFCI outlets in various locations throughout your home. There should be a GFCI for outlets within 6 feet of a sink or water source. In short, if the outlet is likely to come in contact with water, it should be a GFCI outlet.
Bathrooms:Bathrooms were the first place for GFCI outlets to be required. All 15 and 20 amp, 125 volt outlets in bathrooms require GFCI protection.
Kitchens:GFCI outlets must be located within 6 feet of a sink, wet bar, or other water source. Even if the dishwasher is not 6 feet from the sink, you also need a GFCI outlet to plug this appliance into.(Video) How Many Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters On One Breaker
Garage:All 15 and 20 amp, 125 volt outlets in the garage must be GFCI outlets. You may also consider a GFCI circuit breaker if you have multiple outlets in your garage.
Underground:If you have an unfinished basement, it must have GFCI outlets. If you have a finished basement with a bathroom, bar, or other water source, it also needs GFCI outlets. If your finished basement is just a home theater or art studio without sinks, standard outlets will work.
Washing machines:The2005 revision of the National Electrical Code® requires all 15 and 20 amp, 125 volt outlets in laundry rooms and utility areas to have GFCIs.
Outdoor areas:Are you planning to install some fairy lights over your porch? Make sure you are GFCI protected. The National Electrical Code® requires all outdoor outlets to have GFCI protection and waterproof covers. Outdoor outlets should not be higher than 6.5 feet above a walking surface because they should always be within close proximity.
Detection areas:Crawl spaces must have GFCI outlet protection, but because access can be more difficult, professionals recommend GFCI circuit breakers for this area.
Water heaters:Any outlets within 6 feet of your water heater need GFCI protection.
Liquid bars:Entertaining guests at a bar with its own sink? You will need outlets for your electric ice crusher and they will need GFCI protection. No sink? Standard outlets will do the job.
Houseboats: If you have a boat, you will need GFCI outlets for any electrical, including boat lift outlets, 125 volts or more.
Any other wet area: Regulations state that you must install GFCI outlets in any wet area. So GFCIs are the way to go if, for example, you areadding a mumroom to your home. That way, you don't have to worry about constantly dripping boots or wet doggies.
Rooms that do not require a GFCI outlet
Bedrooms, living rooms, and offices do not require GFCI outlets (unless they have a sink or other water source and the outlets are less than 6 feet apart). But if you want added security, think about itreplacing ungrounded outlets with GFCI outletsfor more protection anywhere in your home.
How to test GFCI outlets
As you can see, GFCI outlets are essential to prevent electrocution and electrocution. Just be sure to test them regularly, about once a month, to make sure they're working properly.
Plug a lamp, alarm clock, or other small appliance into the GFCI outlet.
Turn on the device.
Press the test button on the outlet.
You should hear a click, the device should turn off, and the outlet's reset button should pop out.
Press the reset button to reset the GFCI protection.
If the light bulb or other small appliance does not go off, you should immediately call an electrician to replace the old GFCI outlet. A malfunctioning GFCI outlet could result in serious injury or even death.
How to Install GFCI Outlets
If you want or need additional protection in various rooms throughout your home, consider installing GFCI outlets. But working with electricity is dangerous and can even be fatal in extreme electrocution.Do not attempt to DIY a GFCI installationif you don't know your way around wires and electricity. It is best to hire oneelectrician near youto install GFCI outlets. Thecost of installing or replacing GFCI outlets;it's about$150 per outlet, including materials and labor, worth it for your safety.
Paige Bennettcontributed to this piece.
GFCI outlets should be installed in any potentially wet or damp area such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, outdoor spaces, basements, garages and workshops. Damp areas can make you prone to dangerous electric shock, but using a GFCI outlet can greatly reduce your risk of injury.What areas in your household a GFCI outlet installed? ›
GFCI outlets should be installed in any area that can potentially be wet or damp areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, outdoors, basements, garages and workshops.Does every outlet in a kitchen need to be GFCI? ›
Not all your kitchen outlets need to be the GFCIs, but they are required to be if they're within six feet of a kitchen sink or if they serve a countertop. Near laundry room sinks. Any receptacles within 6 feet of a sink or washing machine should be GFCIs.What should not be plugged into a GFCI outlet? ›
But don't plug big appliances such as refrigerators, freezers and sump pumps into a a GFCI outlet or circuit. It's also not a good idea to put lights on GFCI circuit – you don't want to be left in the dark if the circuit trips.Does it matter where a GFCI is located? ›
GFCI outlets should be installed in any potentially wet or damp area such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, outdoor spaces, basements, garages and workshops. Damp areas can make you prone to dangerous electric shock, but using a GFCI outlet can greatly reduce your risk of injury.Does a refrigerator need to be on a GFCI? ›
All commercial buildings/kitchens are required to have GFCI for refrigerators. See NEC 210.8(B)(2). In a Dwelling Unit (house or apartment) refrigerators located inside the kitchen do NOT have to have a GFCI.Should I put GFCI outlets everywhere? ›
The NEC requires GFCIs on all exterior and bathroom receptacles (another term for outlets). GFCIs are also required on all receptacles serving kitchen countertops. In laundry rooms and utility rooms, GFCIs should be installed on outlets within six feet of sinks, washing machines, and water heaters.Does microwave need GFCI? ›
In the 2023 NEC, most dishwashers, electric ranges, wall-mounted ovens, microwave ovens, and counter-mounted cooking units will require GFCI protection.What is difference between GFI and GFCI? ›
Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) and ground fault interrupters (GFI) are the exact same device under slightly different names. Though GFCI is more commonly used than GFI, the terms are interchangeable.Should a washer and dryer be plugged into a GFCI outlet? ›
There is no specific requirement in the NEC for the washing machine itself to have GFCI protection. Section 210.52(F) requires a receptacle outlet to be installed for the laundry area and it must be supplied by a 20-ampere branch circuit in accordance with 210.11(C)(2).
However, GFCI's are prone to a phenomenon called "phantom tripping," meaning that they sometimes activate -shutting power off to the circuit - under normal, everyday voltage fluctuations. So freezers and refrigerators should never be plugged into GFCI's.What is the downside to GFCI? ›
The disadvantage of GFCI circuit breakers is that after a ground fault has been detected, a GFCI circuit breaker will disable the entire branch circuit.Is it better to have GFCI outlet or breaker? ›
If you want to protect your entire electrical system from ground faults, then GFCI circuit breakers are the best choice. However, if you only need to protect individual outlets, then GFCI receptacles are a better option.Do bedroom outlets need GFCI? ›
We recommend you have GFCI outlets installed in your kitchen and all the bathrooms and any other location where water is used in the home. These are the areas where electrical shocks are most likely. We also recommend having GFCI outlets in each bedroom.Where are 3 locations that GFCI receptacles are commonly required? ›
GFCI receptacles are required in bathrooms, garages, crawl spaces, basements, laundry rooms and areas where a water source is present.How high should GFCI outlet be from floor? ›
A GFCI outlet, to remain accessible, should sit within about 15 to 48 inches from the floor. If the outlet is located over an obstruction such as a cabinet, the outlet should sit lower to keep it accessible to someone who is disabled or of shorter stature.Should dishwasher be on GFCI? ›
Kitchen dishwashers installed in dwelling units require GFCI protection whether hard wired or cord and plug connected.Why does my refrigerator trip the GFCI but not the regular outlet? ›
This is usually caused by multiple appliances being plugged into the same circuit. To avoid this happening, make sure that your refrigerator has a dedicated circuit, which you can do by plugging your refrigerator into an alternative power outlet and seeing if it still trips.What is the proper outlet for a refrigerator? ›
Refrigerator – Most refrigerators work with a standard 100-120 volt electrical plug and outlet. You will notice that the electrical plug is made up of three prongs; this means you will need an electrical outlet that has three inserts.How far away do GFCI outlets need to be? ›
The National Electrical Code requires outlets be installed in a kitchen that has a sink 12 inches wide and 24 inches deep. That outlet must also be within 2 feet of the sink. Bathrooms must have at least one electrical outlet, it must be GFCI, and it must be within 3 feet of the sink.
GFCI Outlet Installation
That being said, to provide that protection you only need one GFCI outlet as the first outlet of the branch. That would be the outlet that is closest to the serving breaker (not necessarily physically closest but electrically closest), if you can easily identify that outlet.
The microwaves require a 120 volt, individual, properly grounded branch circuit with a 3 prong grounding type receptacle protected by a 15 or 20 amp circuit breaker or time-delay fuse. Over-the-Range microwave models should always be on a dedicated circuit.Do hand dryers need to be GFCI protected? ›
INSTALLATION Hand dryers require a dedicated 15 AMP circuit, and must be properly grounded. GFI Circuit protection is recommended.What is code for GFCI outlets in kitchen? ›
Bathrooms: There must be a GFCI-protected receptacle at least 3 feet from the outside edge of the sink basin. Kitchens: Outlets can be no more than 48 inches apart, applicable for any wall 12 inches wide or more. Outlets cannot be more than 20 inches above countertops.Where is GFCI protection required in a residential setting? ›
The National Electrical Code requires GFCI receptacles to be installed in bathrooms, garages, spa areas, and outdoors.Where are GFCI located in kitchen? ›
In kitchens, all outlets that serve countertop surfaces should be equipped with GFCI outlet protection. That would include any outlets on walls, behind wet areas (sinks, etc.) that have features such as countertop breakfast bars (open counter surfaces above sinks used to sit at on the opposite side).Does a fridge need a GFCI? ›
A GFCI is not needed for a refrigerator in a kitchen so long as that refrigerator is not plugged into one of the general usage wall outlets, like what's above the counter. Some people may feel it's nice to have that protection, but it is not required.How far does a GFCI have to be from a kitchen sink? ›
Placement of GFCI outlets should also be taken into consideration, especially if you are working on a remodel and have control of such things. The National Electrical Code requires outlets be installed in a kitchen that has a sink 12 inches wide and 24 inches deep. That outlet must also be within 2 feet of the sink.Do all exterior outlets need to be GFCI? ›
Outdoor electrical outlets differ from indoor outlets because they have watertight covers that protect the outlet even with a cord plugged in. Plus, the National Electrical Code requires all outdoor outlets to be GFCI outlets (ground fault circuit interrupter outlets).Does dryer plug need to be GFCI? ›
For example, with this new criteria, electric dryers and kitchen ranges within six feet of a sink will require GFCI. It's worth noting that many dryers and ranges come with connected neutral and ground wires that must be separated for GFCI protection.
What About My Kitchen? It's required by the NEC (National Electrical Code) that all 15 amp, 20 amp and 125 volt outlets within kitchen surface space be GFCI outlets. If you don't have these kinds of outlets in your kitchen, we can help you upgrade them.Can you put GFCI on all outlets? ›
You can replace almost any electrical outlet with a GFCI outlet. Correctly wired GFCIs will also protect other outlets on the same circuit. While it's common to find GFCI outlets in bathrooms and kitchens, there are GFCI outlet requirements.Does a washer need a GFCI? ›
There is no specific requirement in the NEC for the washing machine itself to have GFCI protection. Section 210.52(F) requires a receptacle outlet to be installed for the laundry area and it must be supplied by a 20-ampere branch circuit in accordance with 210.11(C)(2).What's the difference between GFCI and GFI? ›
Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) and ground fault interrupters (GFI) are the exact same device under slightly different names. Though GFCI is more commonly used than GFI, the terms are interchangeable.What is the 6 foot rule for electrical outlets? ›
A receptacle outlet must be installed so that no point along the wall space is more than 6 ft, measured horizontally along the floor line, from a receptacle outlet. The purpose of this rule is to ensure that a general-purpose receptacle is conveniently located to reduce the chance that an extension cord will be used.Does a switch next to a sink need to be GFCI protected? ›
As mentioned above, GFCI protection is required for any electrical outlets or switches that are in the area where you could get wet while using your bathroom. This includes the bathtub area, sink area, and shower stall.How high above counter should GFCI outlet be? ›
They can be no higher than 20 inches above the counter. These requirements ensure that there's an available plug for any appliance with a standard-length power cord. The code permits receptacles inside cabinets, but they can be no more than 12 inches below the countertop.